Environmentalist: Clean Power Plan Is 'A Great Start,' But 'I Think We Can Do More'

By Susan Jones | August 5, 2015 | 11:08 AM EDT

In this Jan. 20, 2015 file photo, a plume of steam billows from the coal-fired Merrimack Station in Bow, N.H. (AP Photo/Jim Cole, File)

(CNSNews.com) - First coal, then natural gas? Apparently so.

A spokesman for the Environmental Defense Fund defended the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan on Wednesday, saying the benefits of carbon-reduction are "important" and "real" -- and hinting that they are just a start: methane emissions from natural gas may be targeted next.

"I think we can do more," EDF's Jeremy Symons told CSPAN's morning call-in show. "I think once we get on this path, we will find that we can do more faster. But it's a great start."

Under the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan, each state must decide how to rearrange their energy mix to achieve EPA-mandated, pollution-reduction targets. Basically, the plan will force states to abandon coal as an energy source in favor of the wind and solar industries, which are not as cost-effective or desirable in a free market.

With coal out of the picture, Symons said natural gas "can and should compete with clean energy." But, he added, "one issue with natural gas -- natural gas does pollute less than coal in terms of carbon pollution when it's burned. But it emits more (pollution) than clean energy and certainly, the best option, which is energy efficiency.

"But there is one piece that's unaccounted for still, that needs to be dealt with and is unfinished business, and that's the methane emissions from the oil and gas production and transportation sector.

"Methane's a very potent greenhouse gas, 80 times or more potent than a ton of CO2 for every ton of methane," Symons said.

"So we need to plug the leaks, which are wasting a valuable natural resource in natural gas throughout the system and stop that pollutant. That's going to save money,
it's good business, it's good stewardship. So let's do that. Let's make sure that we get the markets right and let the technologies compete."

According to the Environmental Defense Fund website, "About 1/3 of the warming we’re experiencing today is due to methane and similar climate pollutants. In the U.S., natural gas production and distribution is the biggest source of methane leaks.

"Fixing these leaks is key. Natural gas companies and utilities should improve their own monitoring of natural gas leaks, but a national policy to reduce methane leaks across the supply chain would ensure that all sectors of the natural gas industry are doing their part to reduce pollution."

EDF notes that lawmakers "are starting to wake up to the threats of methane," after the White House this year announced plans for a federal limit on that pollutant.

Symons on Wednesday indicated that the free market isn't conductive to pollution control:

"We want to reduce pollution. That's what we're about. And we want the market to compete to reduce that pollution. POllution is not free.

"When you keep talking about the freedom of markets, the markets are wrong right now. The makets have not incorporated the fact that carbon pollution is causing the damage. We want to make sure that businesses are making choices based on the total impact of the choices that they make.

"Given that -- gien the power of markets, we can get the kind of results on carbon pollution that we got on sulfur dioxide to deal with the acid rain problem..." (The Obama administration set stricter controls on sulfur dioxide in 2010.)

Appearing with Symons on CSPAN, Myron Ebell of the free-market Competitive Enterprise Institute noted that Symons had "let the cat out of the bag" by admitting carbon pollution is "only the first step."

"And as we go along, each step will be more and more expensive. So the Obama administration and the environmental movement have big plans, and this is only a small piece of it," Ebell said.

The EPA says its Clean Power Plan, by the year 2030, will reduce carbon emissions from power plants by 32 percent below 2005 levels. At the same time, "utility-scale" solar and wind capacity is projected to double by 2030, compared to 2013 levels.

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